Macron doubles French funding for Christian schools in the Middle East

Macron doubles French funding for Christian schools in the Middle East
2 min read
04 February, 2022
As French electoral campaigns pick up pace, presidential candidates have been positioning for hard-line Catholic votes by playing on fears for francophone Christians in the Middle East
French President Emmanuel Macron met Monsignor Pascal Gollnisch of Christian NGO L'Oeuvre d'Orient [Getty]

At an event at the Élysée Palace this week, French President Emmanuel Macron announced the doubling of financial aid for Christian schools in the MENA region, from 2 million euros annually to 4 million this year. 

The event welcomed 150 guests from groups who support Christian communities in the Middle East and included L’Oeuvre d’Orient, the French government’s principal funding partner for Christian institutions in Arabic-speaking countries. 

“Supporting Christians in the Middle East is an age-old commitment in France, a historic mission,” said Macron. 

Over 400,000 pupils across the MENA region currently attend schools that receive French funding.

In 2021 there were 174 such schools, most commonly found in Lebanon but also present in Egypt, Israel, the occupied Palestinian Territories, and Jordan. 

L’Oeuvre d’Orient has three schools in Gaza, where 99 percent of the population is Muslim.

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During the ceremony, Monsignor Pascal Gollnisch,  director of L’Oeuvre d’Orient, also received the Legion d’honneur - France’s highest military or civilian order of merit. The honour was bestowed for “defending eastern Christians”, Macron said. 

Courting hard-line voters

Ahead of French presidential elections that will begin on 10 April, several candidates have been courting right-wing votes by linking the conditions of Christians in the Middle East to the sensitivities of religion and culture in internal French politics. 

Both Valérie Pécresse of the Republican party and far-right candidate Eric Zemmour visited Armenia in late 2021, when Zemmour said that the Christian world should “never refuse to wage war when it is attacked”. 

While French law has prohibited public funding of non-secular schools at home, the same rules do not apply abroad.

Christian figures across the Middle East have given mixed reactions to the overtures of French politicians in recent months.

"The West defending Christians in other regions of the world is a legend that has done so much damage", Chaldean Patriarch Louis Raphaël Sako said in August of a visit made by Macron to the Iraqi city of Mosul.